Designer: Darth Rimmer
Artist: Daryl Toh Liem Zahn
Publisher: Imp House Game Company
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2
Playing Time: 5-10 minutes
WARNING: This is a preview of Mad Love. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
tl;dr: Cthulhu-themed microgame as light in mechanics as it is in a pocket.
Getting to the Game: Mad Love consists of 18 cards and a single tracker card that isn't strictly necessary, so setup is crazy fast. Shuffle the deck and deal nine cards to each person to form their deck. Each player draws the top two cards off their deck, memorizes them, and sets them in the middle of the table, forming a 2x2 grid called the Dreamscape. This is the last time you can freely look at cards in the Dreamscape, so know them cold. Then, Player 1 draws the next two cards off their deck and looks at them, Player 2 draws only one for their hand. No more talking to each other; you're off to the Land of Nod now.
On your turn, there are only two actions to be taken, so learning Mad Love is more about memorization than strategy. Each player is always going to take the oldest of the two cards from their hand and push it into the Dreamscape, moving one card already there into either a discard pile or into their partner's active play space. Play proceeds back and forth like this until you've accumulated 5 Love, thus winning the game and escaping the Lovecraftian maw of darkness, or 5 Madness, succumbing to it.
Playing the Game: Once the Dreamscape is set, there's no talking about what cards you're putting down or what the other player should do, according to the rules. The level of concentration required to remember not only the cards on the table that you've seen, but also what cards your partner has, means that small talk is also detrimental to success, which makes for very quiet games. The time can pass so quietly that other people in the room could easily sleep through it. If this was thematically intentional, then bravo to the developers.
On your turn, you must push the older of your two cards vertically or horizontally into the Dreamscape. Doing so vertically pushes the card in that column closest to your partner. This forces them to reveal that card and take the action listed on it. They then take that card into their hand and play the other one. A horizontal push allows you to "dismiss" a dream, pushing the card at the opposite end of that row into your partner's discard pile. They would then would reveal the top card of their draw deck and play that one (taking it into their hand after).
The lack of forced drawing of new cards every round leads to a somewhat static board state, especially early on as you explore the cards on the table. If the board is favorable, then winning is easy; if not, you'll want to dismiss the bad cards as soon as possible to get new ones down. If you and your partner are clever, have strong memories, and can get on the same page, it's completely possible to establish a board that you can win in a few rounds. This is much easier said than done, though, and not being able to talk about how to do it means that it's less likely to happen.
Mad Love hits a nice state between being overly light and having just enough to think about in a short time. The theme is a little tacked on, but it's explained nicely. Figuring out how to make the best of the cards you know against the cards you don't feels outstanding when it works, and when it doesn't, you'll feel like you're going mad - a true hallmark of a solid Lovecraftian experience.
Artwork and Components: The artwork is delightful, and it's a shame you don't see it very often, as most of the cards spend their time face down in the Dreamscape. The card backs are nice but feel slightly "busy." Still, the cards in your hand are great to look at, which is a plus, considering you'll want to memorize them as much as you can. Zahn's art is playful while still evoking a twinge of fear, as some of the images are simultaneously cartoony and disturbing (The Author's face being stretched into a demon is especially creepy).
There aren't many components to speak of with it being a microgame, but the ones that are here are very nice. The score tracker card has two little sliders that could easily fall into the Betrayal at House on the Hill ineffectiveness but don't. They grip the card nicely and stay in place. There may or may not be an additional component that gets revealed during the Kickstarter campaign, so I won't spoil it here. I will say, though, that I hope it does. It would be very nice for the game.
The Good: Quick, light gameplay that scratches a nice itch. Art looks good.
The Bad: Solvable table solutions for players with sharp memories. Lightness might be too much for players looking for a deeper game. Restrictive rules on table talk lead to a very quiet time.
Score: The nice thing about Mad Love is that it doesn't try to be what it's not. It's a very light microgame with a Cthulhu theme, which will appease its target audience. As long as you're not picking this up looking for anything more than a quick experience you can jam with a friend between other games, then you're in the right place. I'm giving Mad Love a score of Dreamy.
On KICKSTARTER now! Campaign ends June 6, 2018.
See more reviews from Nicholas and EBG at http://www.everythingboardgames.com/p/reviews.html